Reprinted from the San Diego Attorney Journal
40+ Years of Family Law and an Infinite Future in ESI Keep James Hennenhoefer Fulfilled and Fascinated with the Legal Field
James Hennenhoefer, one of San Diego's most well-recognized family law attorneys, is the first to admit that I "did not choose my area of expertise, it chose me." In his case, that's not merely a catchy cliché. As a junior officer in the Navy, Hennenhoefer initially planned a career in federal prosecution. "I was assigned collateral, investigative and legal duties on a major combatant. I really enjoyed the process of investigating criminal activity and the Court Marshal process itself," he says. But in 1970, when he graduated from law school, he found himself facing a stonewalled system. "There was a massive hiring freeze," he says. This drove him instead to join a firm that handled primarily personal injury and criminal matters.
A "Forced" Niche Becomes a Forte
"As the youngest and newest attorney, I was assigned the work that no one else wanted to do at that point. My first task was to handle or resolve a number of family law cases which came to the firm as a result of handling other matters for clients. In short order, I realized that although no one else wanted to do this work, I enjoyed it," he reflects. "[Family law is] more labor intensive than perhaps any other area of the law and involves handling matters that sometimes involve a person's entire life. It involves helping people through one of the most difficult periods of their life in most cases. It involves decision-making related to very complicated assets, business, and investments, and the custody and safety of minor children. Unlike most other areas of the law, it does not involve a single contract or an activity that took place at a moment in time. You are often dealing with events and activities that go back 30-40 years," he says.
Pleasantly surprised to find how much he enjoyed the work, Hennenhoefer knew that in order to devote himself thoroughly to the field he'd grown to love, he'd need to venture out on his own.In 1971, he opened the offices of James A. Hennenhoefer, A.P.C. "I decided to start my own firm simply because unless you practice family law, it is difficult to grasp the labor intensive nature of the cases. Larger firms tended to under-staff family law," he says. Moreover he believes that "in order to properly represent someone, you must have control of the staffing, and ultimately control over the quality of the legal representation."
Hennenhoefer set about to build a firm that would offer that specific type of service to clients. Referring to his firm, he says that "we are unique in that most family law firms are small boutique operations that usually are not equipped to handle very large complicated cases. Our structure allows us to do so." The structure that Hennenhoefer is referring to includes his team of four lawyers who are all California State Bar Certified Family Law Specialists.
However, that's really just the tip of the iceberg. "We have a retinue of specialists who work with us," he says. From tax advisors to lawyers exclusively devoted to handling discovery, Hennenhoefer has built a firm of the "crème de la crème" of experts, working together as a "blue ribbon team" for clients.